England have played 30 minutes fewer than Croatia and while that may seem trivial, their quarter-final match with Sweden was incomparable to Croatia’s clash with Russia so they could have a physical advantage going into Wednesday’s semi-final, with several of Croatia’s players pulling up with cramp on Saturday. While the psychological boost of a shootout victory is significant, fatigue and injuries may outweigh that immediate elation for Croatia.
This will, however, undoubtedly be the toughest test the England defence have faced in Russia and Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic may look to cause Gareth Southgate’s side problems on the flanks, where Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic will be looking to give Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire the sort of problems that they have not faced yet in the tournament.
England have seen off Columbia and Sweden to reach the semi-final while Croatia have beaten both Denmark and Russia to make the final four. With some of the tournament’s best players squaring off in Moscow on Wednesday night, we take a look at the key battles.
Harry Kane vs Dejan Lovren
With Croatia's defence considered their weak link with neither Domagoj Vida nor Dejan Lovren boasting great pace at centre back. Lovren has struggled against Kane in the Premier League in the past and faces a challenge to contain the tournament’s top striker.
Jordan Henderson vs Ivan Rakitic
Croatia have a number of talented midfielders with Rakitic being among the finest in the game. He has played more of a withdrawn role in this tournament while Modric has attacked so Henderson, the anchor in Gareth Southgate's side, will have to negate his impact.
Dele Alli vs Luka Modric
Modric has excelled at certain points in the tournament, both on the ball and in terms of his leadership qualities. His role has been variable and he can push forward to operate in support of main striker Mario Mandzukic as well as spray passes from midfield. Alli can attack too but there could be onus on him to drop back to prevent Modric taking a hold.
Mario Mandzukic vs Harry Maguire
Croatia's chief threat in front of goal is Mandzukic, who has operated both as a lone striker and as one of a pair with Andrej Kramaric. His strength and aerial power are his prime attributes and England will want Maguire, their strongest defender in the air, up against him when the crosses come in.
Prediction: Croatia 1-2 England (AET)
England have not really faced a side of this quality to now, including their B-Team meeting with Belgium. If Croatia can overcome their fatigue, this will not be a repeat of the relatively comfortable win England enjoyed against Sweden
The longer the game remains in the balance, the more England’s physical advantage should come into effect. Avoiding another penalty shootout with a winner in extra-time would be another sign of uplifting change for this young squad.
This is the eighth meeting between England and Croatia, with England winning four of those games, with one draw and two Croatia wins; six of the previous seven games have also been played on a Wednesday.
England and Croatia have met once before at a major tournament - England won 4-2 in a group stage match at Euro 2004.
England are competing in their third World Cup semi-final; they won 2-1 against Portugal in 1966 on their way to winning the tournament, but lost on penalties to Germany in 1990.
Croatia have had eight different scorers at the 2018 World Cup - only Belgium have had more different players find the net (9).
England have not beaten two European nations in a single World Cup since 1982, when they beat Czechoslovakia and France.
England have scored 11 goals at this year's World Cup, a joint-record along with the 11 they scored in their victorious 1966 tournament.
Croatia have reached the World Cup semi-finals for the second time since their first World Cup participation in 1998, which is more than the likes of Argentina, England, Italy, Portugal and Spain (1 each). The only European nations with more semi-final appearances in this period (inc. 2018) are Germany (4), France (3) and the Netherlands (3).
Croatia reached the semi-finals via penalty shootout victories in the last 16 against Denmark and quarter-final against Russia - the only other team to win two penalty shootouts in a single World Cup were Argentina in 1990 (against Yugoslavia and Italy).
England had 15 shots on target in their first two 2018 World Cup matches but have attempted just six in their three games since - England had eight shots on target against Portugal in the 1966 semi-final, and four in 1990's semi-final against Germany.
Croatia have only lost one of their six knockout matches at the World Cup, losing to France in the 1998 semi-final.
Harry Kane has scored on six of the seven days of the week for England, with Wednesday the only day he hasn't scored on. Should he score, he'll become just the third player to score on all seven days of the week for England, after Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard.